Bogota – Day One

18 Sep

The walls are full of graffiti and the streets are broken cobblestone.  In corners, prostitutes lean against walls and men carry large guns with dogs.  These are the images that greet me as my cab zips through the streets of Bogota.  We pass two traffic accidents involving Motos and Taxis, and Jorge, my driver turns to me and asks, ¨¿tienes miedo,?

Are you scared?

I say, ¨no,¨ and mean it, but I am shocked.  Not only that, I am shocked at my shock.  In my mind, I didn´t believe I had any expectations, and yet there they are, the expectations I didn´t even know that I had.

Jorge drops me off at Damian´s, the man that I am staying with.  He is un caballero, a gentleman, though I knew that before I arrived.  He pays for my cab, gives me keys and then leaves me.  ¨Ï work 14 hours a day,¨ he says.  ¨That´s why I don´t have internet.¨

I want to yell, ¨how can you not have internet?! It was supposed to be my lifeline.  The thing I could count on to make me feel less alone,¨but I smile and pretend like it doesn´t bother me.

Yet, I can´t help but be suspicious by his kindness.  I am a friend of a friend, and I´m not even that close to our mutual frined.  Though, this is Colombia, or South American hospitality.  It´s a heart that is unfathomable by the North American.

Even the language allows more heat.  Damian, and the lady I met on the plane express themselves with phrases like, ¨me duele en mi alma, me ama con me alma,¨I hurt and love in my soul.  Translated into English it sounds like it´s too much, but in Spanish it seems just right.

When the woman I was sitting next to struck up conversation, she immediately started to discuss the shootings that happened in D.C.  She told me it made her hurt in the depths of her soul, and I realized my own psychic numbness, cut off from my own feelings because these things seem so common.

Yet, when Damian casually mentioned the building across the street from his had a bomb planted underneath it a few years back I was horrified.  It made Colombia´s former violence come alive, and I thought, ¨how could I feel for the forgein and not the familiar?

Already traveling is stripping away my own preceptions and preconceptions, peeling away me from myself and leaving me standing there with new self-knowledge.

I don´t like everything I´m seeing and what I´m really seeing is my own privledge.  I´m not used to broken streets and dilapidated buildings.  I´m not used to tiny apartments that don´t have internet.  I´m not used to stray dogs or the feel of floating filth.

My life has been terribly convenient.  I didn´t have to move to a forgein country to learn English so i could get a decent higher education like Damian, nor have I even ever had to unravel a map.  Google has always been there for me.

I have never once looked across the street, at the building that houses the most important radio station in my country and known that a bomb is ticking beneath it.

And I wonder if this is what makes the people Ï have encountered so welcoming.  They know bombs that have sat beneath buildings, or have friends who have been killed.  They know the cracks in their streets, overcrowded buses, and graffiti shouting support for strike slogans.

Maybe deep in Bogota´s subconcious is the knowledge that we need to welcome one another, to feel deeply, to greet each other with our hearts because you can turn down a street, get lost and not find your way back.


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